In an effort to shake a holiday hangover and get back into a work routine, I found myself reading quite a bit last week, trying to catch up on national and world events.
As I reviewed a host of local and national publications and websites, I noticed my inner editor was tripping over some perennially tired and lazy writing conventions â€“ as well as a few absolute misuses of language. To balance the curmudgeon inside me, I made sure to "like" and "share" the sharply constructed and well executed news stories I came across. Then I jumped on a soap box and jotted down a few new year's resolutions for writers (and myself, as we are all susceptible to bad habits from time to time).
Five Words to Strike From Your Writing
Irregardless. It's not a real word, period. Try regardless or irrespective.
Should. Some people may not be put off by this word, but for those who are, "should" reads like an admonishment or shaming. Best to stay away from it.
That. Sure, this demonstrative pronoun has its place - but not 15 times in a 300-word press release. Try striking it from your drafts and see if you miss it. You won't.
Pleased. I don't have hard research on this, but anecdotally, I find a ridiculous amount of corporate communications contain quotes about how "pleased" and "delighted" a CEO is about the launch of a new business unit or the hiring of a new executive. Surely the CEO has something more strategic to say - like how the business unit will allow the company increase market share or the new hire will oversee execution of corporate growth objectives.
There. As with "that" above, this sometimes adverb/sometimes pronoun has a place, but it often results in passive voice (I've written about this evil before) and is the hallmark of ineffective and non-persuasive writing.
Four Words to Consider More Often (these are just a few personal favorites)
Incumbent. I love the various and related meanings to this word, from obligatory to leaning to currently residing.
Paucity. An interesting alternative to two other great words: scarcity and dearth (all three of which beat "lack").
Opaque. A personal favorite. I use this in place of obscure, obtuse or "hard to understand": "I don't mean to be opaque, but the overwhelming data speaks for itself."
Eschew. This simple word slips into the place of "shun" for a much more dramatic impact.
Three Habits to Adopt
Writing thank you notes - by hand. I don't know anyone who isn't impressed by a handwritten expression of appreciation.
Leaving your phone silenced AND out of sight. Productivity increases in meetings (including family meals) in which smart phones are not present.
Writing shorter sentences. I love long, complex and compound sentences - but I also like diagramming sentences and doing Scrabble puzzles in my head; I'm clearly not normal. Studies have proven that comprehension and retention is better when content is built on shorter sentences. If you have to take a breath in the middle of a sentence as it's read aloud, you probably need to shorten it.
Two Habits to Drop
Late night business emails. Again, I don't have hard data on this, but I would bet most business people think their best work is done during the day and in the office (wherever their office may be). Work product delivered late at night sends a message that you've squeezed the work in after you focused on more important projects.
Insulting social media posts. Between the primaries, the election and Chik-fil-A, 2012 presented a full year of opportunities to alienate "friends" on social media. I understand that political and personal are interrelated for many folks - and I respect that - but check yourself before insulting someone's beliefs on social media. If you wouldn't make a comment to their face or in front of your mother or daughter, don't post it.
One Website to Visit More Often
BBC.co.uk As a news source, this site can be interpreted as being somewhat left-leaning. But for crisp, accessible writing and a world perspective that is sometimes missing in U.S. news, the Brits offer a great alternative.
There you have it - 15 resolutions for the new year. What would you add - or take away?
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